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In Syria, we don’t have a no-fly zone—just a place where planes can’t fly AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Setting up a no-fly zone in Syria has long been a point of disagreement between Hillary Clinton and President Obama: Clinton wants one, Obama doesn’t.

Back in October, for example, Obama suggested that Clinton’s continued calls for a no-fly zone showed she doesn’t yet understand the judgment required of a president.

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He’s stuck to his position since then, with good reason: A no-fly zone won’t hurt ISIS, because they don’t have planes. (If anything, Clinton’s proposal risks pushing us into outright war with the Syrian government or even Russia, both of whom do have planes in the region.)

That background is what makes this week’s Orwellian announcement from the Pentagon even more bizarre. In Syria, a Pentagon representative told the press, we don’t have a no-fly zone. We just have a place where planes can’t fly:

Reporters pushed press secretary Peter Cook to explain the distinction.

“Our warning to the Syrians is the same that we’ve had for some time, that we’re going to defend our forces and they would be advised not to fly in areas where our forces have been operating,” Cook said.

“It’s not a ‘no fly zone,'” he added. Later, he said, “You can label it what you want.” …

Asked whether the U.S. policy is to shoot down a Syrian or Russian aircraft if it poses a threat to U.S. troops on the ground, Cook said, “We’re going to defend our forces on the ground, absolutely.”

So the Obama Administration says non-U.S. planes can’t fly in this area, and we’ll shoot down any planes which do, but somehow it’s not a no-fly zone?

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This twisted logic would only be surprising if the Administration didn’t have such a well-established pattern of using similarly confusing language where foreign policy is concerned. The White House nimbly dances around such details as whether U.S. troops are “in combat,” whether the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are “ended,” and even what counts as a civilian casualty.

It’s a sad state of affairs when we cannot describe our foreign policy honestly—let alone reform it.

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